This is Fine: A Traveling Tour Company Amidst a Global Pandemic

This is Fine: A Traveling Tour Company Amidst a Global Pandemic

April 14, 2020 | By: Evan Padgett, Director of Campus Movie Fest

All around us, universities are seeking solutions to continue the student academic experience and celebrate the culmination of their hard work remotely. Event companies are scrambling to figure out a way to survive through uncertain times. Film and TV production has all but shut down. 

We all want stability. Predictable, day-to-day work that you can hang your hat on engenders accomplishment. Everyone would love to close their laptops at the end of the day feeling like they did their part in contributing to the whole.  

When you have four teams traveling across the country, visiting new places, running live shows for hundreds of people at a time, and helping students make movies for the World’s Largest Student Film Festival (copyright pending), will things always go according to plan? Yes, of course, we’re perfect! 

Except for when it doesn’t. Sure, we’ve got processes in place — we obsessively inventory our equipment, we have spreadsheets upon spreadsheets to track school engagement, and we create templates for everything from video work to our communications. All of these things bring stability to the chaos. 

On the road, we have to be unrelentingly flexible to survive. But allow me to let you in on a secret: that’s what we like about it.

As it did for so many people around the world, COVID-19 changed things in an instant. University campuses started emptying around the country, Governors were declaring states of emergency, and we had staff in the most dangerous parts of the country.

What do you do first? You get your team to safety. They had to come back home and we had to shut down the tours. It was a heartbreaking decision, but their safety was paramount.

The next decision was crucial. What do we do for the students that expected to share their stories through our events? For some, this is the highlight of their year, and I know that many people were planning their films for months ahead of our arrival.

Without hesitation, the team agreed that we needed to take the CMF experience online. This is the kind of decision that has far-reaching and uncertain consequences, but we knew it was the right choice.

Where do you go from here? You start with what you have: eager and skilled professionals at Ideas United and the incredible CMF tour members who were now working from home.

We had to let everyone know. With plans and goals crumbling for schools, students, and our staff, there was a lot to communicate in a short amount of time, and it had to be done tactfully. Our marketing team was right there to walk us through this crisis and collaborate with us on a messaging plan for the next day, week, and foreseeable future. 

We had to unlearn what we had learned. We weren’t on campus handing out equipment. We didn’t know who would or could still be involved in our competition. But we did know we had to bring the magic of CMF to audiences in a completely new way.

With this as our north star, we broke down the entire event from start to finish. Some things stayed, some things got tossed. We needed new graphics, new messaging, and a competent way to bring all our remaining schools together under one tent.  And so, knowing that we had set up the functionality of the website to handle an event completely in the virtual space, CMF Online was born.

From there, we needed a novel way of recreating the anticipation, community, and celebration of our awards ceremony, the Premiere, to our participants remotely. Being a longtime partner of YouTube, we looked at their options first and found that their “Premiere” component would give us the tools we needed to screen our films, run interactive contests with our fans, and announce winners live through their chat component.

**Fun fact: CMF was putting streaming movies on the internet before YouTube existed. 🙂**

We had to embrace the chaos. Collaborating with our design team, project and account managers, creative directors, writers, web developers, CMF tour members, and our partner schools was the only way through the cloud of uncertainty. You have to think in new ways, accept decisions, and do it all again the next day.

One of the best things to come from this process was realizing that everyone wants to help. Everyone was willing to put the energy in to stabilize what small part of this we could control. Our god, Mr. Rogers, would be impressed with how easily I found the helpers.

I hope that the lessons we learned from digitizing an entire series of events that are typically run in-person will help ourselves and, especially, others.

Will we get the engagement we are hoping for? What elements should we pre-assemble versus operate live? Are we giving students the experience they deserve? I’ll let you know tomorrow.

We are still in the middle of laying the tracks in front of our train every single day. 

In an unpredictable world, the only thing you can rely on is unpredictability. Embrace it.